On April 3 of this year, brother George Bailey will turn 90 years of age. It was my privilege recently to fly down to Houston for the express purpose of interviewing brother Bailey for this issue of Hope & Expectation. Brother Bailey is not feeling well physically, yet his mind is still very sharp. We had a wonderful visit together for about three hours. During the past ten years, brother Bailey has become one of my dearest friends. We have spent countless hours together enjoying meals, listening to one another preach, travelling together, praying together, and discussing the work of preaching.
There is perhaps no man among us who has done as much preaching as brother Bailey. He has literally preached around the world. He has often been called the Prince of Preachers. He is a unique preacher and chances of having another one just like him come along seem to be slim.
One of the most outstanding characteristics of this man of God is his humility. If any preacher in our day has a right to be proud, George Bailey would be that man. I’m honestly not sure if he realizes his greatness and the immeasurable good he has done for the church during his more than seventy-five years of preaching!
He is unassuming in every way. After greeting me during our visit he quickly begin to ask me questions. “How is the work going at Lewisville?” “How is the preaching?” “How is Laura doing?” “Are you enjoying that grand baby?” He asked about a few of our common friends. I sat and thought, what a remarkable human being.”
It was such a blessing to sit and listen to him as he answered the questions we had chosen. He would often give me an answer and then he would say, “What are your thoughts about that?” Some of his answers came quickly, others required a little more thought. A couple of times he said, “Can we come back to that?”
Once or twice we would both lose our train of thought and we would have to try to remember the question. A few times brother Bailey repeated himself, which was perfectly fine with me. I could have listened to the same stories over and over again.
Thanks to the marvel of modern technology, we were able to record the interview on my iPhone. I am going to do my best to transcribe the answers from brother Bailey exactly as he gave them to me, with very little commentary. With these preliminary notes in mind, let’s get to the good stuff.
HOPE & EXPECTATION: Who influenced you most to become a preacher?
GEORGE BAILEY: G. A. Dunn, Gus Dunn. He knew that Bible almost by heart. He was an old time preacher. He’d get into an argument with himself, while he was preaching. He’d say, “Now brother Dunn, why did you say that?” Then he’d answer himself. I really learned a lot under his tutoring. I had a great respect for him. And of course, N.B. Hardeman. (Then he said, “You took classes under him, didn’t you?!!!!”) He was not a scholar, but he gave us great information. And of course, my parents influenced me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to preach. I’d get syrup buckets and turn them over like they were seats, I preached to the cows, pigs, and chickens. Never converted a one of them, not one. I preached my first official sermon when I was fourteen in Kaufman, TX. I went to Freed Hardeman and met Ela Beth while we were there.
H&E: Where did you begin your work as a preacher?
GB: My first full-time preaching was in Weatherford, OK. They let me take some more classes while I was there. I was making $20.00 a week. I told the elders, this may be out of place, but would it be asking too much for you to give me a raise? They asked, “How much George?” I said how about $5.00, they said, “how about $2.50?” I said, “Ela Beth is worth every bit of that!” They were fine men.
H&E: How long were your sermons when you first started preaching?
GB: I’d say about thirty minutes. I didn’t always hold it to that, but I tried. I think everybody wanted me to cut them shorter.
H&E: What about other places you preached?
GB: We were first in Weatherford; there was Corsicana, then Oklahoma City, then Abilene, and then Dallas.
H&E: Brother Bailey, tell us about your preparation for preaching.
GB: I would research and gather as much material as I could find. Then I’d try to whittle it down so as not to make the sermons to long. I would spend time praying about it and studying that material.
H&E: You have a lot of sayings that some people call Bailyisms. Could you tell us how those came to be and give us a few of them?
GB: Some of them came natural to me. I like to play on words so that’s how some of them came to me. I got to where I used it a lot. One of my favorites is, “If you don’t work hard when you don’t have to, you’ll have to work hard when you don’t want to!” And, that’s so true. I love to play on words. Another one is, “When a man thinks he’s through learning, he is through!”
H&E: If you could give some advice to young preachers, what would you say to them?
GB: I’d say boys, “Study, study, study, study.” You can’t study too much. I really love to study. Sometimes you have to leave your office to be able to study. Everybody will want to come by and visit. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can distract you from doing the important work of study. I’d tell them to work hard to get along with their elders. I saw a sign in a doctor’s office that said, “The success of this visit depends on which one of us is the Dr.” I tried to never put myself in the place of telling the elders what to do. Let them decide. You can encourage them and you can make suggestions because there are times that preachers have taken over and tried to rule. I would encourage young preachers to get to know and ask questions from the older preachers. Those relationships can be powerful. I wrote and talked to several preachers through the years and it was very helpful.
H&E: What do you believe to be the most important work of the preacher?
GB: Of course, as I mentioned study is so important. Nothing can take the place of study. I have always thought that visiting the hospitals was an important part of our work. I made that a practice and I believe it paid off. Hulen Jackson said to me one time, “People can forgive a preacher for a lot of things, but they will have difficulty forgiving him for not being there when they need him.” It is important to get to know the people in the church. And they will get to know you better also. Then when I was in meetings I’d choose one night and try to meet with all of the young men in the church who had preached or who would like to preach. I tried to encourage them in every way possible.
H&E: How important is it for the preacher to take time for his family?
GB: Oh, that’s very important. I think a lot of preachers have missed the mark there; they didn’t spend enough time with their family. I tried to spend time with both of my sons and took them on preaching trips with me. That is time that will never be regretted.
H&E: Do you have any thoughts about preachers having friends?
GB: Well, I think it will be natural that you have some close friends. It’s okay to have a very best friend. It’s good to have friends in the church and it’s good to have friends who are preachers. I think it’s important that you have one preacher that you are very close to as you do your work.
H&E: Do you think preachers should take time off from work?
GB: I really do. I didn’t do that as much as I think it should be done. I would recommend it highly. Some of our men have burned out rather quickly, and taking time off might have prevented some of that. Some don’t stop long enough to see what damage is being done. Getting rest will pay dividends.
H&E: Would you discuss the importance of preaching from the Scriptures?
GB: It is vitally important. You can’t do what the Lord said, or be what the Lord said you should be if you don’t preach from the Scriptures. It takes work and effort to memorize and preach from the Scriptures but it pays great dividends.
H&E: Would you mention something about the preacher’s prayer life?
GB: It is very, very important. I can’t say enough about it. I’ve often said you ought to pray as much as anything else. You have to spend a lot of time in prayer. Prayer is one of those things that will mark our life and who we are as preachers. Your life should be a constant prayer.
H&E: What do you think that preachers struggle with the most?
GB: One thing is pride. I think it is one of them most repulsive things in the world for a young preacher or an older one to think he is it. I used to talk to older preachers to find out how they dealt with pride and other problems.
H&E: What can preachers do to keep from developing too much pride?
GB: Give himself a slap. Pray about it. Work not to be arrogant. It is through pride that the Devil became the Devil. When somebody starts telling you how good you are, don’t always believe it. Listen to others. I have been helped by so many others.
H&E: Are there any other words of advice you would want to give?
GB: I’ve been asked that question many times. I would say you need to budget your time. Everybody has the same number of hours from the most important person to the lowest. It’s what you do with those hours in the week that count. Spend a lot of time studying, a lot of time praying. You can’t study and pray too much. Get to know the members of the church and those in the community who are not members. Spend time with as many as possible. We can learn so much from one another.
H&E: Thank you very much for taking this time with us. All of the preachers who read it will be very thankful. And thank you for the life you have lived before us.
GB: You are welcome and thank you. This has been a wonderful morning. May God bless all of the preachers who are doing their very best to serve Him. Let’s pray together.